CHICAGO — It's almost over.
The CTA's massive Red Line reconstruction is nearing completion, with transit leaders saying the project is expected to wrap up Oct. 20.
A large portion of the track reconstruction is already complete from the 95th to 63rd street stations and from 35th/Sox station to north of the Cermak-Chinatown station, while track installation is underway between the 63rd and 47th street stations, a CTA spokesman said.
The installation of ballast, the gravel-like substance laid underneath the railroad ties, is underway from the 47th to 35th street stations.
All of that work is taking place in conjunction with upgrades to the nine stations along the Red Line South corridor, renovations that include fresh paint, electrical upgrades and the installation of elevators at the Garfield, 63rd and 87th Street stations.
Next year, work is expected to begin on a major public art project at the 95th Street station by acclaimed Chicago artist Theaster Gates, who's been commissioned to do the work.
A CTA spokesman said the agency couldn't estimate the percentage of work completed nor the dollar amount spent so far on the estimated $425 million project.
As reconstruction inches closer to completion, commuters who've endured shuttle transfers and detours during rush hour said they'd be sad to see the CTA's shuttle system go — and not necessarily because it's been a free ride to work.
Derrel Cheers, 21, a Harold Washington College student from Avalon Park, said the shuttle from 87th Street saves him "a good 15 to 20 minutes every day."
"It's been more efficient and less of a hassle," he said.
Shaun Richardson, 34, said the commute from the Beverly-Morgan Park area used to take about an hour on the Red Line depending on "how the buses are running and delays with the train."
"Maybe 40 minutes with everything running back-to-back," he said.
Many riders said the system, which carts commuters to and from shuttered Far South Side Red Line stations to the CTA Garfield "L" stop and temporary bus depots, was more reliable and faster than the old rail line.
That's a point CTA leaders have said underscores the need for the massive reconstruction in the first place. The project will replace virtually the entire rail system from the Chinatown/Cermak stop to the end of the line at 95th Street and eliminate "slow zones."
Still, the Garfield stop was bustling with riders who said they've grown accustomed to the shuttle routine.
"I wish they'd keep this. The buses are always here, and we never have to wait," said Sherry Jefferson, a West Pullman resident who works in the Loop. "I'd be willing to pay for them to keep it this way."